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WikiLeaks cables support criticism of ICTY judge

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks appear to support claims by a Danish judge that the American head of the war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia furthered US administration aims to acquit senior suspects, a Danish newspaper said Tuesday.

Judge Frederik Harhoff last week claimed in a letter sent to his colleagues and leaked in the Danish press that the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Theodor Meron, had pressured judges to acquit leading Croatian and Serbian officers.

US State Department cables from The Hague published by WikiLeaks appear to support his claim, including one from 2003 documenting a meeting between Meron and an unnamed US ambassador.

In the meeting, Meron allegedly pleaded for the US government to vote to terminate the mandate of then ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, describing her as "primarily a media person who is primarily interested in her own legacy".

"Meron urged the USG (US government) to oppose renewal and expressed reservations about a one-year extension of her mandate," the cable says of Del Ponte, who left court in 2008.

Denmark's leftwing independent daily Information, which revealed the existence of the US cables, said Del Ponte had "dragged out court cases and thus put obstacles in the way of the US and Russia to complete the work of the tribunal".

The paper said Harhoff believed that Meron pushed for court proceedings to be expedited in the interests of saving resources and winding up the work of the 20-year long legal process.

The ICTY was created in 1993 to try perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the the bloody break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Serbs have frequently criticised the tribunal's perceived bias against their nationals, who were frequently convicted, while Croats, Bosniaks and Kosovars were acquitted.

A passage from another confidential cable later in 2003 on a meeting between Meron and another US ambassador identified the judge as "the tribunal's pre-eminent supporter of United States government efforts".

Information quoted an unnamed former legal advisor to the ICTY as saying the cables showed Meron had a close working policy relationship with the US government.

"It is the perception among my former colleagues that the tribunal president takes instructions from the US government. And the WikiLeaks documents certainly do not help his case," the advisor said.

In his letter, Harhoff claimed the acquittals of two Croatian generals -- Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac -- and three Serbs -- former Yugoslav army chief General Momcilo Perisic, Serbian state security service chief Jovica Stanisic and his deputy Franko Simatovic -- were contrary to the tribunal's set practice of holding military commanders responsible for crimes committed by subordinates.

Harhoff said the court was instead moving towards a policy that commanders could only be convicted if it could be proven that they knew of their subordinates' intention to commit crime.

Harhoff suggested that US or Israeli officials were involved in the acquittals.

The acquittals beg "the question of how this military logic pressures the international criminal justice system? Have any American or Israeli officials ever exerted pressure on the American presiding judge... to ensure a change of direction?" Harhoff wrote.

"We will probably never know.

"But reports of the same American presiding judge's tenacious pressure on his colleagues in the Gotovina-Perisic cases makes you think he was determined to achieve an acquittal -- and especially that he was lucky enough to convince the elderly Turkish judge to change his mind at the last minute," he added.

The only Turkish judge sitting at the ICTY is Mehmet Guney, 77.

"Most of the cases will lead to commanding officers walking free from here on. So the American (and Israeli) military leaders can breathe a sigh of relief," Harhoff wrote.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130618/wikileaks-cables-support-criticism-icty-judge